A Tale of Two Fallujahs

So, it looks like we’re reaching the later stages of our collective pre-emptive remorse over the additional innocent blood we’re going to spill in Fallujah. From the New York Times: Bush’s decision on possible attack on Falluja seems near.

Facing one of the grimmest choices of the Iraq war, President Bush and his senior national security and military advisers are expected to decide this weekend whether to order an invasion of Falluja, even if a battle there runs the risk of uprisings in the city and perhaps elsewhere around Iraq.

After declaring on Friday evening in Florida that “America will never be run out of Iraq by a bunch of thugs and killers,” Mr. Bush flew to Camp David for the weekend, where administration officials said he planned consultations in a videoconference with the military commanders who are keeping the city under siege.

So, Bush is on the horns of a dilemma. Leaving the evil-doers of Fallujah unpunished would be intolerable. But killing them will result in the deaths of large numbers of innocent civilians, thereby turning Iraqi, Arab, and world public opinion more firmly against us, making our larger Iraq problem dramatically worse.

See, this is where having a president who was actually capable of introspection and the careful weighing of complex issues would be helpful. Because Bush’s decision on this one is completely predictable, and it’s going to suck. Faced with a choice between an intolerable current situation (a situation he created with his previous decisions, one should remember), and a “solution” that will actually make things much worse, he’s going to ignore the consequence and go with what feels right to his gut. Which will be to kill the bad guys. And make things much worse.

Meanwhile, I was struck by this item from war-supporter and überblogger Andrew Sullivan: Email of the day. It’s an email allegedly from a military chaplain in Fallujah who offers an extended analogy comparing the insurgents there to a street gang.

The part I find interesting is the contrast between this version of Fallujah and the ones I linked to earlier from the peace activists who visited the medical aid station there (see Firsthand account of Fallujah and Rahul Mahajan on Fallujah). Those earlier accounts essentially portrayed the insurgents as being in solidarity with the locals. It said the fighters consist essentially of all the able-bodied males in the city, banding together to protect their homes and families against the US invaders. It said the insurgents very much had the support of the city’s population.

Compare that with Sullivan’s anonymous military chaplain:

[I]n Faluja, the supposed hotbed of dissent in Iraq, countless Iraqis tell our psyopers they want to cooperate with us but are afraid the thugs will slit their throats or kill their kids. A bad gang can do that to a neighborhood and a town. That’s what is happening here.

So which is it? I mean, there’s doubtless some truth in each side’s account, but each side is also filtering its perceptions through a bigtime reality filter. Which one is distorting things more? If you and I could go there, live with the people of Fallujah for a while, and get to know them, which version would emerge as being more accurate?

I know which one is easier for me to believe. But I also know that the world is not under any obligation to behave in a way that minimizes my cognitive dissonance. War supporters like reader Thom will have the same problem, but with the arrow pointing the other way.

I don’t think it’s really possible to answer the question conclusively from here. But it’s an important question, and given the actions that are about to be carried out in our name in Fallujah, I think it’s a question that deserves serious thought.

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